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How Mitt made himself the Invisible Man

[Note: I am Democrat and an enthusiastic Obama supporter. Surprise surprise!]

It took the tweetstream (Ana Marie Cox, for example. Baratunde for another) to get me to watch Mitt Romney’s speech last night. I get too wound up, so I was planning on first reading about the speech and then watching it the next morning (= today). But the tweetstream provided the distance I needed, so I turned on the TV. And then, inevitably, not only did I start tweeting, I couldn’t stop.

I came out of the speech feeling even better about President Obama’s chances. I think Mitt turned himself into Clint’s empty chair last night.

Mitt’s speech was poorly crafted. Oh, I got verklempt when he talked about waking up to a pile of children; that concrete detail did indeed remind me of that ineffably full phase of my life. But like bad fiction where you see the writer’s intention too clearly, it was too apparent that Mitt was telling us these stories in order to get us to see him as a warm human who has shared the elemental moments of life. I do not doubt at all that Mitt loves his family, but the fact that he felt that he had to convince us of that emphasized that the Party feels there’s a question about Mitt’s shared humanity.

Put this next to Clint Eastwood’s bizarre performance art piece, and I think the two elements will quickly merge in America’s mind: An empty chair will symbolize not President Obama, but Mitt as a man who is worried about being perceived as empty. After all, the empty chair trope is usually reserved for a candidate who skips a debate out of fear, which makes no sense in the context of the Republic convention. So, it had to be a way of making the emptiness of character into an issue. And that’s not a winning issue for Romney.

Then add to this the fact that the Net broke the old record for Speed of Satire. Eastwooding became an instant meme. Someone took the Twitter handle “InvisibleObama“and got 22,000 followers by the end of the speech (44,411 right now). Then check the headlines about last night. “Invisible” has become the word of the night.

So, I think Mitt’s speech has set the subtextual agenda: The Invisible Man versus Barack Obama’s character and substance. Even if you don’t much like Obama’s policy proposals, Obama doesn’t have to convince us that he is real, and that his policy comes from his substance as a person.

As early evidence of this, check the response — brilliant, I think — from the official “BarackObama tweetstream:

Obama sitting in a chair

Personally, I think Obama should and will win on the basis of the content of his policies. I would prefer that the campaign be about the policies that matter. But the Republican Party made its choice last night, for example, reducing the peril of climate change to a shameful punch line, and issuing a “five-part plan” that stated zero plans. Too bad for all of us, but especially for them. You don’t make “healing the family” your capstone if your acceptance speech plays like a rejected audition tape for Ward Cleaver’s role in “Leave it to Beaver.” The Republicans will lose because last night they made their fears about Mitt the center of the election: He’s just a man in a suit who’s looking for his next promotion.

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